A vision and action plan to make Canada’s heavy industries our low-carbon “Next Frontier”

Clean Energy Canada’s new report, The Next Frontier, sees Canada’s heavy industries—including steel, mining, cement, and wood—as the “Next Frontier” – already employing more Canadians than the oil and gas industry (300,000 in heavy industry compared to 237,000 in oil and gas), and poised to increase exports to the rest of the world. The report contends that Canadian heavy industries have a competitive advantage over their global peers, largely because our electricity sector is now 83% emissions-free. And according to the introduction, the time is now: “The production of certain metals and minerals could increase by up to nearly 500% over the next three decades to meet growing demand for clean technologies, according to the World Bank Group. Global steel demand, meanwhile, is projected to increase by up to 55%; Canadian steel and aluminum are among the world’s cleanest and could be even cleaner. Mining companies such as Vancouver based Teck are also global leaders in copper production, while Canada is the world’s fifth-largest nickel producer—both key metals for electrifying transportation. And Albertan companies like E3 Metals and Summit Nanotech are finding ways to recover lithium from oilsands wastewater.”

The Next Frontier , released on March 24, calls for an action plan to allow Canada to capitalize on the convergence of global market trends and climate imperatives.  The report Canadian strengths and provides more examples of existing companies. It concludes with an action plan to move towards this lower-carbon economy, including recommendations: to expand domestic markets through clean procurement policies for government infrastructure materials; to identify strategic directions such as “establishing a self-sufficient battery and critical minerals supply chain to build and grow domestic battery and clean technology manufacturing”;  investment and research and development in well-positioned industries; and establishing standards which will support a “Clean Canada” brand to the world.  

And regarding our largest and most important trading partner, the U.S., the bottom line message is: “If we want Biden’s “Buy American” approach to include an asterisk beside Canada, we must adapt to what this new administration wants more of (clean energy and low-carbon goods) and what it wants less of (fossil fuels and emissions-intensive products).”

Environmental justice in Canada: A labour union call to action, and evidence from the UN Special Rapporteur

  “We will not rest, we will not stop: Building for better in a post-pandemic recovery” appeared in the Labour Day issue of Our Times magazine, written by Yolanda McClean and Christopher Wilson, executive officers of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU). Set in the context of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, the article states: “The calls to intensify the struggle against Canada’s police violence, economic apartheid and environmental racism are resounding.  …Anti-Indigenous, anti-Black and systemic racism extend beyond our political structures to our education and healthcare systems, to our corporations, workplaces, communities and, yes, to our labour movement.  (On this point, the authors refer to “Dear White Sisters & Brothers,” an Open Letter by unionist Carol Wall which appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of Our Times).

Wilson and McClean call upon the labour movement, stating: “A labour vision for a post-pandemic recovery must confront structural racial inequalities and advocate for the inclusion of BIPOC communities — economically, politically and socially.”   As positive examples, the article cites the Ontario Federation of Labour, which joined with the CBTU in a joint statement in July, stating: “As allies, we must act now and support the call to defund the police”. Wilson and McClean also highlight the CBTU’s “Green Is Not White” Environmental Racism research project, and its associated webinar “What Can Unions Do to Stop Environmental Racism?” , produced by the CBTU, the Asian Canadian Labour Alliance, and York University’s Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW).   

UN Special Rapporteur reviews toxic chemicals in Canada and concludes: Environmental injustice persists in Canada

The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Toxics, Mr. Baskut Tuncak, officially visited Canada in May/June 2019, and presented his resulting Report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in early September 2020. The report states clearly that “Environmental injustice persists in Canada. A significant proportion of the population in Canada experience racial discrimination, with Indigenous, and racialized people, the most widely considered to experience discriminatory treatment.” The report focused on the extractive industries (defined as “mining of metals and oil sands”) in Canada and abroad – noting that over 50% of the world’s multinational mining companies are based in Canada. The report also discusses oil and gas pipelines, and chemical industries (including pesticides in agriculture). After documenting many specific examples, the Rapporteur concludes with recommendations for legislative and regulatory changes.

Excerpted highlights from the Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Toxics :

“….Contamination from extractive industries, including the massive tailing ponds in Alberta, and the possibility of seeping into local water supplies, is of concern.

… despite compliance with the Fisheries Act, 76% of metal mines have confirmed effects on fish, fish habitat or both. Among these mines, 92% confirmed at least one effect of a magnitude that may be indicative of a higher risk to the environment.

….The health risks posed to Indigenous peoples by the multibillion-dollar oil sands industry are another example of concerns. Fort McMurray, Fort MacKay and Fort Chipewyan (Fort Chip) paint a disturbing picture of health impacts of the oil sands (i.e. tar sands) that were not properly investigated for years, despite increasing evidence of health impacts on local communities.

 … the situation of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia is profoundly unsettling. Deeply connected with their land, residents on the reservation invaded by industry as far back as the 1940s are now surrounded on three sides by over 60 industrial facilities that create the physiological and mental stress among community members …It is one of the most polluted places in Canada, dubbed “chemical valley.” ….   

…Workers are unquestionably vulnerable regarding their unique and elevated risks to chemical exposures. In Canada, occupational diseases and disabilities due to such exposures pose a major challenge to fulfilment of workers’ rights. Recent estimates show over 2.9 million workers are exposed to carcinogens and other hazardous substances at work, which is a gross underestimation.. ”  

Success stories from Appalachian coal mining communities

appalachiaA new report was released on October 31 by the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition, a group which seeks to spur coal mine reclamation projects throughout Central Appalachia.  A New Horizon: Innovative Reclamation for a Just Transition profiles 19 projects in Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia, including data centres, a YMCA Wellness Centre, as well as many ecotourism projects.  Although much is specific to the U.S. funding opportunities, the case studies offer instructive descriptions of the challenges and obstacles faced by the communities, and also attempt to quantify the economic impacts of each project.

The press release describes the progressive approach used to create a “new horizon”: “In the past, efforts to reuse old mine sites too often resulted in sparse, lasting economic activity. Surface mined areas near population centers became shopping centers, hospitals and other standard uses, but more remote sites were either completely abandoned, converted to low-productivity cattle grazing lands, or developed into speculatively built industrial parks or golf courses at great taxpayer expense. Those “if you build it, they will come” projects now largely sit empty. To break from this unsuccessful approach to coal site reclamation, the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition established six guiding principles to identify optimal repurposing projects, including ensuring they are appropriate to the place in which they are occurring, that they include non-traditional stakeholders in decision-making, and are environmentally sustainable and financially viable long-term.”

The report was published as part of the launch of a new website, ReclaimingAppalachia.org, by the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition, which consists of organizations in four states — Appalachian Voices in Virginia, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center in Kentucky, Coalfield Development Corporation in West Virginia, and Rural Action in Ohio — and a regional technical expert, Downstream Strategies, based in West Virginia. The website as a whole is intended as an information and education resource , providing best practices and information about potential U.S. funding sources.

Mining and the Low carbon economy: Human and Labour Rights in the Supply chains of electric vehicles, wind turbines and solar panels

Tracker_Headline_Image_1000x1000Mineral Tracker  is a special project of the London-based Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, with the goal of “tracking the human rights implications of the mineral boom powering the transition to a low-carbon economy.” The website provides analysis, data, and case studies focused on the allegations of violations against mining multinationals, relating to environmental damage, access to water, health impacts, indigenous rights and labour rights in the mining of the cobalt, copper, lithium, manganese, nickel and zinc.  The website monitors the mineral supply chains in the manufacture of  Electric vehicles , Wind Turbines , and Solar Panels .

Geographically, Southern Africa leads in the number of allegations made, followed by South America, Asia Pacific, North America – where four allegations have been made regarding nickel mining, three regarding cobalt and two regarding  zinc.  A special report is dedicated to practices in Southern Africa ,  where half of the top companies mining these minerals have been accused of serious human rights abuses, from violating access to water and land rights to corruption, violence and deaths.   An overview  global analysis and summary was released in August 2019, charting the number of human rights allegations by mineral, and identifying the top five companies and their countries of operation.  Of these, only Teck Resources has Canadian Headquarters, with operations in Peru and the USA. Teck is cited for seven human rights allegations in zinc mining used in wind turbines and solar panels.

minerals-sourcing-for-renewable-energy_COVER-300x425 Mineral Tracker maintains an archive of important  articles and reports from other organizations.  Some other reports available there: Responsible minerals sourcing for Renewable Energy  (2019)  by Earthworks, and  Green Conflict Minerals: The fuels of conflict in the transition to a low-carbon economy (2018) published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

The parent organization, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre published  Renewable Energy Risking Rights & Returns: An analysis of solar, bioenergy & geothermal companies’ human rights commitments in 2018.  Read the WCR summary of that report here.

Amnesty International campaign calls for better mining, manufacture, and disposal of electric vehicle batteries

golf electricWhile the Nordic EV Summit   in March 2019 showcased progress on the adoption of electric vehicles, Amnesty International used that backdrop to  issue a challenge to leaders in the electric vehicle industry –  to produce the world’s first completely ethical battery, free of human rights abuses within its supply chain, within five years.

It is not news that the mining of  cobalt and lithium, the two key minerals in batteries, has been linked to human rights abuses, environmental pollution, ecosystem destruction and indigenous rights violations.   Amnesty was amongst the first to document the child labour and human rights abuses with a report This is what we die for   in 2016,  updated in  2017 by an article,  “The Dark Side of Electric Cars: Exploitative Labor Practices”.  More recently, “Indigenous people’s livelihoods at risk in scramble for lithium, the new white goldappeared in The Ethical Corporation  (April 9), describing the human rights situation in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, which hold 60% of the world’s lithium reserves. The environmental impacts of deep-sea mining are also of concern.

In addition to the mining of raw materials, battery manufacturing has a high carbon footprint, with most of the current manufacturing concentrated in China, South Korea and Japan, where electricity generation remains dependent on coal and other polluting sources of power.

Finally, the issue of electronic waste, including batteries, has been the subject of several  reports:  From  the International Labour Organization :  in 2012,  Global Impact of E-waste: Addressing the Challenge and more recently,  Decent work in the management of electrical and electronic waste (e-waste) , an Issues paper produced for a Global Dialogue Forum on Decent Work in the Management of Electrical and Electronic Waste in April 2019.  The 2019  report provides estimates of the workforce involved in some countries – led by China, with an estimated 690,000 workers in 2007, followed by up to 100,000 in Nigeria , followed by 60,000 in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  The report deals mainly with occupational health and safety issues and includes an overview of international  e-waste regulation, as well as case studies of  the U.S., Argentina, China, India, Japan, Nigeria.  Similar discussions appear in  A New Circular Vision for Electronics Time for a Global Reboot , released by the E-waste Coalition at the 2019 World Economic Forum, and in a blog, Dead Batteries deserve a Second Life published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development on April 9.evcobalt-lithium-V2_1-supply-chain

Clearly, there are labour and environmental problems related to lithium-ion batteries and the green vehicles and electronic devices they power.  Recognizing  all these concerns, the new Amnesty International campaign is calling for:  improvement in human rights practices in mining, and  a prohibition on commercial deep-sea mining; disclosure and accounting for carbon in manufacturing, and for legal protection and enforcement of workplace rights such as health, equality and non-discrimination; finally for products to be designed and regulated to encourage re-use and penalize waste, with prevention of  illegal or dangerous export and dumping of batteries.